It appears that Google is slowly adding Family Link features to Chromebooks. This move is long overdue and there are still glitches, but it’s a step in the right direction. If you’re looking for details about how Family Link works on Android (non-Chromebook) smartphones and tablets, we’ve explained those, too.
Related information: Android Parental Controls
Google removed Supervised Users with little warning!
In January 2018, Google froze their Supervised User feature without adding a replacement feature, and homes using Chromebooks were astonished. Other than services like Mobicip (which we’ve recommended for years), Google’s Supervised User functionality provided parents some monitoring and peace of mind for the millions of children who depend on Chromebooks at home.
Then in an instant, the feature was gone. Google gave users less than a week’s notice.
In an equally baffling move, slowly and quietly during 2018, Google started adding some Family Link features to Chromebooks. Mentions of Family Link started showing up on Google Support Articles slowly and without any mention or fanfare from Google. If you go to Family Link and click on “Supported Devices,” Chromebooks aren’t even mentioned! No one knows why.
From the beginning, Google has labeled itself as an unconventional company and this approach certainly fits that label.
What is Google Family Link?
Family Link was created as a way for parents to control how their children navigate their Android devices (phones and tablets) and Chromebooks. Family Link is stricter if the child is less than 13 and has slightly different features if the child is 13-17.
Family Link now (partially) works on Chromebooks!
That heading is true. Not all of Family Link’s features available on Android are also available for the current Chromebook release. Here is the current feature set, showing which are available on each Google platform:
For the “in Beta” items above, Google is testing a few new Family Link features for Chromebooks that we are watching.
Setting Up Family Link on Chromebooks
We’ll provide explanations and a few screen shots to show you what to do. We wish it was a much easier process – especially for iPhone parents who might be discouraged by what they’re about to read. Apple families might just conclude that they’re just happier using Mobicip’s Chromebook extension for now.
Start by opening the Family Link App on your Android or iPhone.
(Family Link App Icon)
2. When you open the Family Link App for the first time, you’ll see a screen that asks you to “make sure your child’s device is nearby.”
3. Next, the app will lead you through a series of screens asking you if your child already has a Google account. This is where it gets a little complicated (actually, a lot complicated), depending on whether you have an Android or iPhone:
If your child is <13 and doesn’t have a Gmail account yet, answer “NO” when asked, “Does your child have a Google Account” and follow the prompts. Eventually, you’ll get to the Family Link screen for your family where it will say, “To supervise [name]’s screen time…have him/her sign in to a Chromebook with her [newly created Gmail account].”
If you child is <13 and already has a Gmail account, but you want to add Family Link supervision to the account, answer “YES” when asked, “Does your child have a Google Account” and the only way to complete the process is to do so with an Android phone (not possible through the Family Link App for iPhone).
If your child is >13, and doesn’t have a Gmail account yet, you can’t create one through the Family Link app. Create a Gmail account like other adults, and then come back to the Family Link App. Answer “YES” when asked, “Does your child have a Google Account” and the only way to complete the process is to do so with an Android phone (not possible through the Family Link App for iPhone).
If you child is >13 and already has a Gmail account, but you want to add Family Link supervision to the account, answer “YES” when asked, “Does your child have a Google Account” and the only way to complete the process is to do so with an Android phone (not possible through the Family Link App for iPhone).
We’re attempting to get a response from Google about why it’s still so difficult for iPhone users to complete the process (link to Forum question).
4. [If you have an Android device] Complete the “pairing” process. You are now ready to set-up the Chromebook device so that it uses Family Link appropriately.
Make sure the Chromebook is set-up properly.
Steps 5-9 don’t have anything to do with Family Link. Instead, these are basic Chromebook set-up steps to make sure your child can’t circumvent the Family Link process. Actually, steps 5-9 below are really good steps for any family who wants decent control over who is using the family Chromebook.
5. On the Chromebook, make sure everyone is signed out.
6. In the lower left corner, click “Add Person”
Note: it’s possible that when you, as the parent administrator, set up the Chromebook, you set it up in a way as to NOT allow to users to be added to the Chromebook. Actually, we recommend that parents set up their Chromebooks in this way. Therefore, before you click “Add Person,” you will probably have to do the following:
- Click your profile in the lower right corner.
- Click the settings (gear) icon.
- Select “Manage others users”
- Click the plus sign to “Add person”
- Type in the name and email of the newly created account of the <13-year-old child (this is the process to follow anytime you want to allow a new person to access the Chromebook).
7. Now, back to the “Add Person” option in the lower, left, following the Google prompt, type in the email address of the child for the account you just created in the Family Link app.
8. You’ll then be prompted to go through a series of screens verifying that you’re the parent, starting with the one below. Whatever parent email you established as the primary account during the Family Group set-up in Family Link will appear here:
9. Toward the end of the set-up on the Chromebook, you’ll see this screen titled, “Important Note for Parents,” which tells you what Family Link features are and aren’t available. Similar to our feature table above. Also, the final screen you’ll see is where Google wants to make sure the Chromebook was set up correctly by an Administrator to prevent circumvention of the Family Link settings. This is what we explained above in step 6 where you added a person. In the “Manage other people” settings, it should look like this if it was done properly:
Go back to the Family Link App and set the proper restrictions.
10. When you complete the Chromebook set-up in steps 5-9 above, the Family Link App on your mobile device will complete step three, “Connect to your child’s device,” and you should then see the newly added Chromebook listed in your child’s account in the Family Link app.
11. Next, ensure the correct limits/restrictions are in place. Click the “MANAGE SETTINGS” link in your child’s Family Link account as shown in the image on the left (which will then take you to the image on the right).
12. You’ll want to click through each of the items in this list. Under Controls on Google Play, you’ll want to set age ratings for apps that you want your child to have access to. Under Filters on Google Chrome, you’ll want to make sure “Try to block mature sites” is checked. Note that you can also create a white list here also. A white list is a short list of the ONLY sites that you want your child to have access to, which can be nice for young internet users. Under Filters on Google Search, you’ll want to make sure “SafeSearch” is toggled on.
Note: for now, Location setting doesn’t work for Chromebooks, even through you can set it in the app.
13. Under the “…More,” you can Manage Google Activity. In there, you’ll see an option “Choose who can manage activity controls” and if you select “Only parents,” Google shows the strange pop-up notification, shown below:
I don’t have a clear understanding of what “certain Google services” will be restricted, but I’ll report back when I do. The statement, “Your child will still be able to access and delete her past activity” initially made us upset, but after some interaction with Google’s support, we actually discovered some very good news.
We discovered that if parents follow the steps above, they will be able to prevent their son or daughter from deleting web history, which we’ve tested and are really pleased with.
Can kids erase web history while being supervised by Family Link?
In images 1-3 below, we are in the parent Family Link app.
In image 4, which we get to after clicking on “Chrome dashboard” link in image 3 above, we are transported to a Google Chrome page in Safari where you can click on “Clear History.” Based on our testing, this is the only way to delete the search history.
We tried clearing the Chrome history from the Chromebook after we were logged in with a Family Link supervised account.
Image 5 below is from the Chromebook after clicking on the three vertical dots in the upper right corner of Chrome where you can drill into Chrome web history. As you can see, there is a “Clear browsing history” option in the left menu, but when it’s clicked, what you see in image 6 doesn’t give the user the option to actually clear the websites.
The user (child) can only clear cookies and the cache when clicking the “Clear Data” button, which is great (in other words, a child wouldn’t be able to hide his/her steps by clearing history).
Current Family Link Limitations on Chromebooks
Overall, Family Link has a lot of room for improvement.
[As explained above in Step 3] You can’t add Family Link supervision to an existing account for kids <13 or do anything for kids >13 unless you have an Android device. It took 2 weeks and multiple conversations with Google support to figure this out. We’re still pressing Google to resolve this.
Profiles for kids <13 are locked into using YouTube Kids. This is a real problem for kids in junior high, who are often required to use YouTube for school. We’re pressing Google for a more flexible solution here.
You cannot add any Chrome extensions to a Family Link profile. Meaning, you can’t add Mobicip’s monitoring on top of Family Link.
You cannot access school issued G-Suite accounts if you’re logged into a Chromebook with Family Link. Some kids have school email accounts that go something like [email protected] where they have Google Drive for homework. But, once you’re logged in with a Family Link Gmail account, you can’t get to that Google Drive under the school-issued email. A Google Family Link employee says that resolving this is a “top priority” in this forum post.
Family Link for Chromebooks is a work-in-progress
Google really seems to be dragging their heels on providing families an easy-to-control Chromebook environment. We’re honestly baffled by his. There are so many unprotected Chromebooks being used by kids.
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For now, the easiest move for most parents is to just use Mobicip’s extension until Google figures out the rough spots. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s good enough for many kids.
I love life. Seriously! Each. Day. A. Gift. Former CPA, business advisor, youth pastor, development director, porn survivor. Current marketing manager for Covenant Eyes and CEO of PYE. God shares wild ideas with me about life while I run. I love guiding parents to teach their kids how to use technology well while protecting them from the bad stuff.